Medical vs Recreational Cannabis: One plant many intents

In our semantics surrounding cannabis, we have created a binary paradigm. Cannabis is often defined as either “Medical Cannabis” or “Recreational Cannabis”. This terminology creates confusion in patients seeking cannabis for medical purposes. “Medical cannabis” is not a specific type of plant. The difference between the two terms lie in the intention for use. Are you taking it to alleviate symptoms? Or do you take it for social intent, much like having a glass of Bordeaux? The two terms don’t reflect the “ingredients” within the plant or product. Cannabis plants have many differing compounds depending on the growing environment and breeding. Think of each cannabis plant as a recipe with 500 plus ingredients. To examine how cannabis breeding has affected the profile of compounds within each plant, we could make an analogy to cooking.

Consider measuring ingredients for a recipe. Is it a cake or cookie? The ratios of ingredients determine the final outcome. Each dish’s recipe could also represent a specific culture’s food. The dishes emblematic of the specific culture, morph as other culture’s recipes influence the other. We have asian fusion as one example, a mix of western recipes with asian influence. These recipes evolve. After a while, the dishes no longer resemble the original culture’s dish.

Consider measuring ingredients for a recipe. Is it a cake or cookie? The ratios of ingredients determine the final outcome. Each dish’s recipe could also represent a specific culture’s food. The dishes emblematic of the specific culture, morph as other culture’s recipes influence the other. We have asian fusion as one example, a mix of western recipes with asian influence. These recipes evolve. After a while, the dishes no longer resemble the original culture’s dish.

We could make a similar analogy to the cannabis plant and the composition of its compounds. We no longer have the original plant species, known as landraces, due to cross breeding. Breeding muddied the “ingredient” profile specific to the original landrace species. The diversity of compounds have declined. Recreational market terms like Indica and Sativa and colourful strain names lack standardization. For example, Bubba Kush strains from various dispensaries vastly differ in compound profiles. These terms help to market product.

Cannabis, a weed, adapts to changes in climate, soil conditions and hours without light. Its stature, leaves and flower’s resin change to adapt to varying conditions. In response to environment, the flower oozes a sticky resin containing hundreds of compounds. The main “ingredients” or compounds in the Cannabis plant are Cannabinoids, Terpenes and Flavonols. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are the most well known cannabinoids.

Terpenes give cannabis its characteristic scent and taste. They may also affect how cannabiniods exert their effect on the body. It may be differences in terpenoid content that define the differences between sativa and indica species. “Categorizing Cannabis as either ‘Sativa’ and ‘Indica’ has become an exercise in futility. Ubiquitous interbreeding and hybridization renders their distinction meaningless.” (McPartland, 2018) (p. 210)”.

Each plant and product batch, differ by the amounts of each compound. For medical purposes, knowing “ingredient” profile is crucial. For example, for sleep, one may need a higher THC content balanced with CBD and certain terpenes for a more sedating effect. Product labels should list the amount of THC, CBD, other cannabinoids, and terpenes. This is analogous to wanting to know the amounts of each drug in a cold and cough formulation. Each drug has a specific action. This is the same with cannabis herb or the products made from the plant.

Good licenced producers labels list THC, CBD, other cannabinoids and terpenoids amounts. They should also list the mg/ml in oils and tinctures, not the total amount in the bottle. Think of Tylenol’s active compound, acetominophen. You want to know how much acetominophen is in each pill to guide treatment.

Photo: @LexScope

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